This is a guest post by SAUNVEDAN APARANTI
[Based on Gujarat Dalit flogging. It chronicles the fictionalised life of one of the victims.]
What comes to your mind when you think of India? If you’ve been seduced by films, books, pictures and anglophile Indians over the last century then you will no doubt paint a happy picture. You might romanticise the poor yet happy people, the colours, the cuisine, the attire, the mystics, the music, the dance, the cacophony, the heat and the sensory overload of this one country. The only colour missing in your picture will be any shade of black because black is a colour that India hides.Black is a colour that India detests whether it be the colour of your skin or the colour of the sewer that you’re lowered in. A bottomless pit is where you will find the true colour of India.
You are born into filth. No, not the filth on your body that a new born babe is covered in. You are born in the filth of caste. For the doubly disadvantaged, you are born in the filth of your caste and your gender. Your very existence is putrid enough to be exterminated after the first ultra-sound that discovers you are a girl. Your birth is reviled if you’re allowed to be born and your gift of life is to be repaid by being a sex-slave to upper caste men who stare into your eyes as they rape you one by one at night. During the day you have scavenged upper caste filth with your bare hands and carried it on your head like a living sewer. You are a carrier of their effluents that drip on your body and also inside it.
If you survive the first ultra-sound because you’re a boy, you arrive into this world as a wretched human. You are born beneath every animal that lives, particularly the holy cow. You never see school and if accidentally you can afford one you’re seated separately. You can’t drink the same water everyone else can. You can’t touch your upper caste schoolmates. Daily caste humiliation and segregation are the staple of your childhood all practiced by your school teacher no less. You sing the national anthem full of praises for mother India. You salute the tricoloured flag. But you can’t be equal, you can’t be human.
You drop out to feed your starving family. You live on the outskirts of your village. You travel miles each day to fetch water as the village well is out of bounds for your caste. You live next to a sprawling rubbish dump. You live in the stench of the open sewer running through your house. You see your brothers and sisters die at the hands of water and air-borne diseases. Your parents are most likely living with HIV. You are only 10 years old.
You start working in a brick kiln. You can’t push the wheel barrow so you have to lift the load on your head. You are singed by the heat of the kiln and delirious carrying bricks in the 40 degree summer heat. You have come of age now and your parents are dead. Your sister is a prostitute and your brother has been implicated in a crime he didn’t commit and is now rotting in a jail. You are severely malnourished and famished yet you persevere. Your skin is as black as the soot you breathe everyday,but pales next to your existence.
Your caste offers an alternative misery as an occupation. Your caste has always skinned the dead cow for a living. Upper castes employ you especially for this choice job. For them its their mother that’s dead. They will happily drink cow urine and lovingly use its dung to plaster their houses but to them you are an untouchable. Only someone as wretched as your caste can properly dispose off their mother. You think you are lucky, you will have proper food after months thanks to this diseased dead animal. You can make leather out of its skin and maybe sell it for a few meagre rupees. You may be able to rescue your sister from those upper caste vultures or pay for your brother’s bail to save him going insane.
But their religion doesn’t allow you such small pleasures. Under it you are doomed to live a wretched existence and forced to call their religion as yours yet you are not allowed in their temples. You are their slave, their Gods’ slave, their religion’s slave, their hereditary slave. They stamp their villainy on your soul until you start unseeing your wretched life unseeing your wretched life, unseeing their privilege and position, unseeing your sisters’ rape, unseeing your broken body, unseeing your caste’s humiliation, unseeing your enslavement. They give you festivals that you can celebrate at a distance, they give you Gods that come in all shapes and sizes, they give you rituals for every moment of the day and night, they give you black magic to keep your logic at bay, they give you superstitions to keep you in check.They turn your abyss into your rainbow.
You work for them day and night, you dispose off their excrement and their dead animals. You stink, you sweat, you bleed, you swear. You are dishevelled and unkempt, no barber will cut your hair or shave your beard for fear of polluting his scissors and razors. You are an animal, no, worse than an animal and they like you there. Enjoy their rituals and practices from afar, revere them as demigods and messiahs. Go to their temple and pray from outside, fear their supernatural forces and practice their superstitions. Stay in the pit where you have stayed for millennia. They know the drill and have made it into an art .
Then one day as you skin their mother, the dead cow, they come for you. They know it’s your job, they created that job, they know who you are, they created your caste but today they fancy a lynching. They’re not content raping your sister, today it’s your turn to pay. They accuse you of killing their mother when you beg and plead that she was already dead. They accuse you of skinning their mother when you wail that it’s your wretched job. But today no pleading will do, today you will have to die.
They tie you to their car, bare your body and flog you in public. Turn by turn each man breaks your bones with an iron rod. The crowd cheers and relishes your punishment. You deserve to be tortured. Who are you? Your death is our entertainment. Your life is our mercy. Your dignity is our doormat. But we need you, to carry our filth, to dispose off our dead so we leave you, more dead than alive but we wish we could finish you off. Just so we could enjoy a proper execution.
You wish you were dead as the long and slow recovery begins. Your body heals but your mind doesn’t. They’ve knocked the living daylights out of you but instead of the emptiness you see red. It is the blood raging through your eyes, the lust for revenge is finally home. Boy has become a man. It’s not merely those who broke your body, its not merely those who watched and cheered your pain. It is that God who watched your fate. It is that temple that watched your plight.It is that priest who decreed your shunning, your sentencing.
The blood doesn’t recede from your eyes, now you see your abyss. The black pit they built just for you. It’s clear how your life came to this, it has always been like this. They made it a long time ago and your caste has never known any different, any alternative, any freedom. They’re your enemy, they’re the target. But you see streaks of blue, blue coming out of of the abyss, your caste in now waving blue flags, celebrating a man who looks nothing like you. He is clean shaven, well-dressed, holding a book. Who is he? They call him Ambedkar and the book is India’s constitution which he wrote.They say he came from the pit, from the abyss, from the void. Just like you.
They sing and they cry, your people hug each other and speak of hope. They say it was your thrashing that brought this revolution. That they don’t have to go begging to their masters for mercy. They have dumped cow carcasses, their mothers in front of their houses and offices. If you so love your mother, then you look after her dead body, they exclaim. The cow is not our mother, your God is not our God, your temple is not our temple and you are not our masters. We are free, we are unafraid, we are equal.
I feel elated, I feel clean, I feel rescued. The old void had consumed me, the abyss had swallowed me, all their colour had blinded me, had subsumed me in their cacophony of myths and Gods. I am free, born in the light, under the blue sky of the Ambedkar sun. I will pull my people still entrapped in the dark designs of their masters.Out of the pit and welcome them into the blue. A streak of red still slices through my eyes and revenge will be had. Although blue can swallow black and spit it out, everything looks better with a drop of red.
[Saunvedan is an activist based in London. Fighting for human rights of Dalits affected by the caste system.]